Category Archives: Project Management

Role of (Software) Product Manager

Product Management

As Product Management becomes more critical for the success of any software company, there is a debate on where to draw the boundaries for the role. In small companies, such role could span across multiple departments such as marketing, sales, executives, engineering and support. Some of those departments especially marketing and support could even be part of the Product management group. Whereas in bigger companies role could be defined as interaction with these departments and have more structured interface for information flow. Ultimately it depends on maturity and size of the organization.

As per following table, Product Manager’s responsibilities are clear. These are minimum responsibilities and tasks Product manager should assume. For smaller companies, she could assume even more responsibilities.


Personal Traits of Product Manager

Behind every great product there is a person with great empathy for the customer, insight into what is possible, and the ability to see what is essential and what is incidental. This person has a deep understanding of the customer as well as her own teams’ capabilities. She operates from a strong basis of knowledge and confidence. She thinks in terms of delivering superior value to the marketplace, and she defines good products that can be executed with a strong effort.

The good product manager is constantly obsessed with the current and future state of her product. These are some of the questions that the good product manager is constantly asking herself:

  • Is my product compelling to our target customer?
  • Have we made this product as easy to use as humanly possible?
  • Will this product succeed against the competition? Not today’s competition, but the competition that will be in the market when we ship?
  • Do I know customers that will really buy this product? Not the product I wish we were going to build, but what we’re really going to build?
  • Is my product truly differentiated? Can I explain the differentiation to a company executive in two minutes? To a smart customer in one minute? To an industry analyst in 30 seconds?
  • Will the product actually work?
  • Is the product a whole product? How will customers actually think about and buy the product? Is it consistent with how we plan to sell it?
  • Are the product’s strengths consistent with what’s important to our customers? Are we positioning these strengths as aggressively as possible?
  • Is the product worth money? How much money? Why? Can customers get it cheaper elsewhere?
  • Do I understand what the rest of the product team thinks is good about the product? Is it consistent with my own view?

Product Manager vs Project Manager

Product managers own “What” and “Why”. Project managers own “How” and “When”.

Product managers are responsible for the overall product vision, directing the people (including all the touchy-feely stuff) and the roadmap (the strategy) for getting there. Project managers are responsible for getting the logistics, scheduling, planning and task allocations done. Think of is as the Product Manager being the CEO of the product and the Project Manager being the COO of the product.


Product Management vs Product Marketing

The easiest way to think about the difference between these two is to think of them as inbound and outbound. Inbound (Product Management) spends most of their time with engineering teams and customers, making critical decisions and ensuring that everything gets done to bring customer-focused products to market. Outbound (Product Marketing) makes sure that once these products are ready that they

get launched and marketed effectively to the target customer base.

Product Management

  • Market Analysis, Business Cases and Profit and Loss investigation.
  • Customer and Market Research.
  • Writing Marketing Requirements Documents (MRDs).
  • Working with Engineering to finalize functional specifications.
  • Competitive analysis for use internally at the company.
  • Analysis of technology trends.
  • Running alpha/beta programs and capturing early customer feedback.
  • Making feature, schedule and cost tradeoffs as the product nears completion.

Product Marketing

  • Writing product launch plans.
  • Product Messaging, including Positioning, Features & Benefits and Unique Selling Proposition (USP).
  • Developing sales tools: white papers, presentations, collateral, competitive analysis for external use with customers.
  • Working with PR to manage launch tours and product review programs.
  • Setting product pricing.
  • Working with Beta sites to generate customer success stories.
  • Running product launches.
  • Working with sales, channel marketing, corporate marketing, marketing communications, technical support, finance, operations and other departments to ensure the product is effectively introduced to the market and continues to be successful.

Product Manager vs Scrum Master

Product Manager is a product expert and scrum master is methodology expert. Product manager ensures the team is building right product whereas scrum master makes sure that all stakeholders understand the process and able to follow it. Product manager is a visionary defining “why” and “what” whereas scrum master owns “how”. Product manager should own the backlog whereas Scrum master should own roadblock (constraints in the project). Scrum master is also addresses all the impediments in order to make progress. Scrum master interacts with Product manager on regular basis to understand and execute product backlog. Although the two roles differ (driving the product vs. driving the team), the intersection of the two positions is critical to delivering a successful product and leading a successful agile team.



Being a part of a Virtual Team

virtual(a): existing in essence or effect though not in actual fact. So idea is to produce the output without a factual team, a team without any existence. Now you get the essence of our work and value of our work.

Virtual Team: A geographically separated team with common goal.

As a team member

  • Be a team member, even if you are in your own room working in your pajamas.
  • Take notes of the conversation; send a memorandum to your manager about the understanding.
  • Most team members are working in good faith. Give them benefit of doubt and provide a second chance to explain/correct mistakes.
  • Your manager, who is 3000 miles away, will care more about the result and less about how you spend your whole day. But it is in your interest to show-case your efforts/skills. Use ways like writing end-of-day email summarizing your day, write blogs about your technical growth, etc.
  • Your manager has his/her own agenda for the day. Make sure you don’t throw surprises. If you are expecting a problem, don’t wait till last minute, it is ok to mention “possible risk”.
  • If you do not understand the importance of your job, ask explicitly. Ask how it fits in overall picture. Most likely you have not understood your job itself.
  • Avoid slangs and colloquialisms. If people do not know the expression it could means entirely something else. E.g. Expression for “you are pulling my leg” in Russian translates to English “you are hanging noodles off my ears”.
  • Respect cultural differences. American English is often direct and might sound offensive to even UK English speakers. Whereas Indians use more words this obscures the meaning. Try and find the balance between meaningful and inoffensive communication.
  • Many people have different time schedules. If you are expecting some work to be done in certain time, ask for exact time. Most people have different snacks, lunch, dinner and sleeping times.
  • Have a mailing list: one internal to project and one for client.
  • Try and use collaborative software such as wiki, discussion forums, blogs, etc. to share idea and mainly document your technical achievements.
  • Be exact about timing e.g End of Business means different for different people. You have to specify End of Business for which time zone. Is end of Friday means start of Monday?
  • Be punctual about the meeting timings. Most of the European cultures are less tolerant about the unpunctual people. Respect your as well as other people’s time.

 As a manager of Virtual team

  • Play multi-player shooting game online. Everyone wants to shoot their colleagues time-to-time. Having common target as a boss is even better J
  • Meet physically once in a while and have a team building exercises, e.g. go for bowling, for a drinks, etc.
  • Use webcams, video chats for regular communications. This will create more life-like environment.
  • Remember that productivity drops over the time. And manager has to make special efforts in order to prevent that from happening.
  • Create a clear structure and assign responsibility very clearly. Assign responsibilities individually but goals collectively. Incentives must be for collective efforts and then reward special individual efforts.
  • Create a more transparent atmosphere by sharing information over mailing list as opposed to individual emails. Have at least one weekly synch-up meeting (if not every day).
  • Provide special attention to build cohesiveness, and trust in the team. This will build relationship faster.
  • When pointing the flaws always provide average of the team. E.g. collectively we have received 50 defects as a team and talk about how we can address them. But talk to individual worse-performers e.g. person who caused 25 defect (out f 50) and create a separate plan. Do not point somebody’s mistakes in open forum.
  • Know about personal life of team members. Give half day off on somebody’s birthday would go long way in establishing positive relationship with that individual and other team members as well.
  • Use chat / discussion forums to collaborate more. Sometime emails seems “my way or high way”. You could have separate discussion session where people just provide suggestions, or “think aloud” about how to resolve the issue.
  • Arrange the meetings in overlapped timings. If this is not possible at least arrange it for convenient time for most people.